‘Tis the season for gazing into our crystal balls and foretelling what the year ahead has in store – but how well did we do with last year’s predictions? FoodNavigator-USA looks back on its forecast for the top industry influences of 2011.
1. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans – released in late January 2011, despite the name – contained few surprises, but despite initial indications that there would be a blanket maximum recommended sodium intake of 1,500mg per day for all Americans, the final guidelines specified that this would only apply to about half of the US population, with a 2,300mg recommendation remaining in place for those not considered to be at risk of heart disease.
The guidelines did tackle the issue of obesity and related diseases head-on for the first time, and industry was put under greater pressure to formulate healthier foods that were in line with the updated guidelines, as predicted. They were used by many organizations as the basis for renewed calls to industry for reformulation and greater support of healthy eating patterns.
2. New food safety legislation, the Food Safety Modernization Act, was signed into law on January 4. We had predicted that the bill would get caught up in scrabbling over limited federal funds in 2011, and this was undoubtedly the case.
Congress tussled over the level of funding necessary for the new law all year, with the House proposing a $285m cut to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) funding in 2012, and the Senate requesting a $50m increase. The agency eventually received a funding boost of $50m, with $39m of that earmarked to implement the new food safety law.
3. Continuing M&A activity
We were certainly on the money with this one. While 2010 was a big year for mergers and acquisitions, 2011 was even bigger. For the first nine months of the year, there were 273 deals in the food industry, up 39.2% on 2010, according to The Food Institute.
Some of the biggest deals were the sale of Sara Lee’s North American Refrigerated Dough business to Ralcorp for $545m, and Diamond Foods’ agreement to buy the Pringles business from Procter & Gamble for $2.35bn.
4. Front-of-pack labeling recommendations from the FDA “will have huge implications for the way industry markets and even formulates its products”, we said in January.
Another year on and we’re still waiting for the FDA to decide on whether it will implement a “standardized, science-based” front-of-pack nutrition labeling system, but the Institute of Medicine (IOM) did come through with its recommendations in October.
The IOM’s favored scheme includes highlighting calories per serving alongside a rating of zero, one, two or three points, depending on whether certain thresholds are met for saturated and trans-fatty acids, sodium and added sugars.
Indications are that industry certainly thinks the system would have huge implications if it were to gain FDA endorsement. The Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute have continued to focus efforts on their own Facts Up Front labeling scheme, which would also allow companies to highlight certain ‘nutrients to encourage’, such as vitamins, minerals and fiber.
5. Focus on preventing weight gain and healthy eating
It’s hard to imagine this trend fading any time soon. However, FoodNavigator-USA predicted that it would be Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign leading the way, with its focus on healthy eating and physical activity from childhood.
Initiatives focusing on children’s health on the whole have been controversial for the food industry this year, and the program seems to have lost some of its shine with food makers, as I commented earlier this month.
Nevertheless, healthy eating has been firmly on the food industry agenda in 2011, and an October report from the Hudson Institute suggested that healthier foods may also drive healthier profits. It found that better-for-you foods drove a disproportionately higher share of sales growth than traditional foods at top food firms.
Take a look at our original predictions for 2011 here .